The first time I picked up my mentee from school, I had the opportunity to meet with his principal. I asked him what he thought of Akiva. The principal told me that the boy was always late, acting out, and making trouble. It seemed to the principal that my mentee was accepted to the school as a mistake; he was “not smart or frum enough.” He was seriously considering expelling the boy.
Once I spent some time with Akiva I realized that he felt alone in the world. His family was ostracized by their community due to his parents’ divorce. His parents were too busy with their own relationship to pay him any attention. He felt rejected by everyone and harbored feelings of anger and depression. Lastly, his school had trouble seeing past his behaviors so they characterized him as broken and hopeless.
A few months later, I received a phone call from the principal. He asked me what I had done to turn Akiva around. I didn’t have an answer, so I asked my new friend and mentee why his behavior had changed. This is what he told me:
“This is the first time that someone asked me how I’m doing and paid attention to me. I’ve never had someone who simply cared about me. Now, I feel like I’m a person who is valued.”